“The Exorcist meets Raymond Chandler,” says director Alan Parker of the inspiration for his hard-boiled chiller-thriller. Almost 20 years on, the clammy tale of Mickey Rourke’s small-time ’50s dick being slowly reeled in by Robert De Niro’s demonic client has lost a little of its flavour, but it’s still a kick to see the two Method men lock acting antlers – particularly with both at the peak of their pomp.
Rourke is an oversexed, cut-rate Columbo, his notorious lack of interest in the material boosting the character’s shabby shamble. De Niro grandstands his diabolical little socks off, as Mr Louis Cyphre – who may or may not be (but obviously is quite definitely) The Devil Himself (“They say there’s enough religion in the world to make men hate each other. But not enough to make them love”).
Beyond the tacky American TV promos and insultingly brief featurette, a big selling point would have been the fresh Rourke material available on the Region 1 Special Edition. Skulking in a dark cinema in dark clothes and dark glasses, fondling a ratty mutt, he’s clearly, hilariously, bored by the whole enterprise (“Yes/No” answers, mumbling, repetition). Although he does manage to rouse himself to call Bill Cosby “chickenshit” for his very public tutting over Cosby Show star Lisa Bonet’s sex scene.
Thing is – er, they’ve left it off. It’s like an almighty arse-up at the DVD masterers (“All good? Yep! Hang on... Ah, cock. We forgot the Mickey!”). Mystifying tinkering like this only undermines distributor arguments about the logic behind region encoding. The simple fact is, if you’re a fan of the movie and you want a definitive edition, then you can hardly be blamed for importing the superior Region 1 version.
Happily, Parker compensates with a commentary and interview dripping with passion, insight and one or two glorious spikes of cattiness (“This is a good bit. So good, they ripped it off in Se7en”).